‘Starfest’ shines light on high-quality childhood education

“School readiness is everything; it is the key to starting on a level playing field,” said Liz Huntley, the dynamic guest speaker at two Childcare Resources Starfest luncheons, co-chaired by Judy Munn and Karla Spooner. To accommodate the sold-out crowd of roughly 450 guests, the luncheons were held Monday and Tuesday at the Quail Valley River Club.

An accomplished litigation attorney, child advocate and author of the memoir “More than a Bird,” Huntley, who serves on the Alabama School Readiness Alliance, said their legislature made the commitment to expand access to high-quality pre-K to all 4-year-olds in Alabama.

“One of the axioms of that is, if you want quality, you pay for quality people to do the job,” said Huntley before sharing how caring teachers and a quality education rescued her from heartbreaking adversity.

When she was age 5, her father was sent to jail for dealing drugs. Her mother, who had five children from four different men before age 21, committed suicide after depositing her children at the homes of various relatives. Huntley was brought to her impoverished paternal grandmother. Within a month, her innocence and self-esteem vanished when an uncle began sexually abusing her on a regular basis.

“It was a tough, dark time in my life,” said Huntley. But, she said, “God used the ministry of early childhood education to literally save my life.”

It was the start of desegregation and a group of women set up a free preschool in a Baptist Church to prepare underprivileged children for kindergarten. “I remember that preschool like it was yesterday.  For the first time in my little fragile life, I felt the nurturing touch of an adult. And I melted.”

Living for the affirmation and love of her teachers, she responded, flourishing in the midst of all that adversity.

“I am the ‘why’ it is so important that we make this a number one priority in this country. And you are the ‘how’ we do it. Education is the great equalizer; it’s the thing that gives opportunity. Nothing gives children more of an opportunity to defy the odds than a quality education.”

“We strive to be the hub for high-quality early learning education,” said Shannon McGuire Bowman, executive director. Childcare Resources now reaches roughly 3,200 local children through their Childcare Resources School and contracting centers, innovative programs and services, partnerships, early education coaches and, most recently, the Credentialing Program for Early Educators.

Pointing to a recent New York Times article entitled, ‘Why are our most important teachers paid the least?’ Bowman added, “Unfortunately it paints an excellent picture of what the profile of an early educator looks like in this country and it really underscores all the important work we’re doing here in Indian River County.”

Photos by: Denise Ritchie
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